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#painting#portraits#Tim Okamura

Women Warriors Confront History and Contemporary Issues in Tim Okamura’s Striking Portraits

June 5, 2024

Kate Mothes

a painted portrait of a young Black woman standing at a three-quarter angle with colorful flowers in her hair

“Full Bloom.” All images © Tim Okamura, shared with permission

“This is a time when a woman’s right to choose, and to have a voice in decision-making on every level, has already been compromised with threats of even further subjugation,” says artist Tim Okamura, whose striking portraits (previously) emphasize the profound strength and resilience of women.

Often gazing directly at the viewer, Okamura’s subjects confront history while standing squarely in the present and looking toward the future. In his ongoing Women Warriors series, individuals don stunning, traditional garments and wield swords, fans, or scythes. His solo exhibition Onna-Bugeisha: Warriors of Light at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center celebrates those who fight for social justice and for a better society.

Okamura became fascinated by the history of onna-bugeisha, also known as onna-musha, when he learned the story of Tomoe Gozen, a legendary female samurai from Japan’s late Heian period (794-1185 C.E.). She is famous for having led 300 women samurai into battle against an enemy army 2,000 strong and was one of only five to survive.

a painting of two Black women wearing Japanese kimonos and wielding swords and a fan

“Northern Emissaries”

“I think the fact that the female samurai fought alongside men and had the same responsibilities and expectations resonated with me deeply,” Okamura says, “especially because as a person of Japanese descent, I was aware of a historically male-dominated, sometimes misogynist society, which I always found difficult to reconcile as someone who identifies as a feminist.”

Many of Okamura’s portraits depict influential contemporary women, such as Nigerian-American writer and speaker Luvvie Ajayi Jones. Myriad other subjects, who often wear flowers in their hair, tap into a universal sense of uplifting others and striving for representation, equality, and empowerment. “I believe the role of the artist is to open up avenues to alternate, constructive pathways and to establish new visions through elevated narratives,” he adds.

Okamura’s work is currently on view in a solo exhibition titled Support System at Blumka Contemporary in New York City, and Onna-Bugeisha: Warriors of Light continues through February 18, 2025, in Pittsburgh. Find more on the artist’s website and Instagram.

a painted portrait of Luvvie Ajayi Jones standing with her arms crossed

“Luvvie Ajayi”

a painting of a young Black woman holding up a sword and wearing a Japanese kimono, surrounded by a field of arrows

“Ebony Obsidian the Unbreakable”

a strong Black woman stands wearing samurai armor and holding two swords, standing in front of a blue background of Japanese designs

“Yaya the Demon Slayer”

a portrait of a young Black woman wearing a Clash t-shirt and a red flower in her hair

“KNOW YOUR RIGHTS”

a painted portrait of a young Black woman holding a fan and a scythe, with a butterfly perched on the weapon

“Fire Walk With Me”

a painting of two women, one with her hand to her forehead and looking off into the distance while the other whispers something in her ear

“Encouraging Words (Omoiyari)”

#painting#portraits#Tim Okamura

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